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Heavens To Betsy!

Susie reviews Betsy-Tacy Books 5-6, in which Betsy heads to high school and complicates her life with boys.

Heavens To Betsy!

Susie, our resident Betsy-Tacy expert, is back! You can read her review of the first four books here.

BOOK REPORT for Betsy-Tacy Books 5-6 by Maud Hart Lovelace

Cover Story: Call The Men in Black!
BFF Charm: Mindmeld
Swoonworthy Scale: Average of 4.5
Talky Talk: Inception!
Bonus Factors: Mysterious Loner Dude(s!), The Mrs. Hughes Award for Awesome Housekeepers
Anti-bonus Factor: The Brass Bowl
Relationship Status: Aspirational Friend

Cover Story: Call The Men in Black!

The cover has wisely been redesigned since I bought this paperback to replace my childhood copy which wasn’t so much a book as a bunch of pages loosely connected by a few strings of glue. I had to take the picture myself since it appears not to exist in digital form, but I had to document it. I'm not sure what spooky, big eyed, alien Betsy and Tacy are scheming about but I sympathize with the terror struck bystanders.

In comparison the cover for book 6 is a masterpiece.

The Deal:

Heaven to Betsy takes place two years after the last book. A lot has changed. Betsy and Tacy are starting high school. Tib has moved back to Milwaukee. And most important Betsy's family has moved to a house not across the street from Tacy's!

Betsy In Spite of Herself sees Betsy trying to change her personality to land a boy with a hot car.

BFF Charm: Mindmeld

My real life BFF know each other so well we sometimes don't need words to know what the other is thinking. Once while playing a Taboo style game at a party, we were on opposite teams, all I could do was shake my head that nobody on her team understood that "the guy" plus waving her hand wildly under her chin, meant the Princess Bride. And while my relationship with Betsy is based entirely on words, I understand her in exactly the same way. She doesn't have to say it. I know.

Swoonworthy Scale: Average of 4.5

In book 5 Betsy has her first crush on the handsome and charismatic Tony. He's oblivious and thinks of her as a kid sister. So she has to watch him fall hard for her good friend Bonnie. It's a pretty accurate account of a one sided crush. Betsy's emotions are set to eleven but there's very little actual swoon. Except for a surprisingly poignant kiss. The relatively painless conclusion to the arc is kind of refreshing.

Book 6's romance is also not swoony. Betsy decides she needs a conquest and goes after Phil, the new boy in town who's main attraction is his shiny red automobile. But the reality of Phil* turns out to be anything but fantastic. He's only interested in his auto. He's jealous of anyone or anything that takes Betsy's attention away from him. And once Betsy starts starts acting more like the fun loving Betsy everyone other than Phil knows, he doesn’t like her anymore. Leading to her to understand that he fell for someone she was pretending to be.

And then there's Joe. I could award points for every scene he's in, because he's that swoony. But then I'd be forced top that in the later books. So I'll just give him a point for the apple blossom moment. Don't worry his time is coming.

Talky Talk: Inception!

I first read these books before the age of nine, and read them many times over after that. It's fair to say they sunk in. I didn't realize how much until I came across this passage in Betsy In Spite of herself.

"Let's see," said Betsy. "If Mamma had married somebody else, we'd just be half ourselves."
"And if Papa had married someone else, too, there'd be another half of us goodness knows where."
"How exciting! I could pass myself on the street."

My jaw dropped. I remembered that conversation word for word, but I remembered it as a conversation with my sister. Right down to passing myself on the street. I had to stop reading for a moment and wonder what other memories of mine had come from books. What is real life? I almost expected to dissolve into floating text.**

Bonus Factor: Mysterious Loner Dude(s!)

Heaven to Betsy introduces not one but two MLDs. First there's Tony. Check out this introduction.

He walked with a slouch that was inexplicably attractive. His hair parted at the left side, and stood up on the right side in a black curly bush. He had heavy eyebrows and large sleepy dark eyes and full lips. He looked about with an almost scornful expression...

Betsy, who's been waiting for a tall dark stranger to walk into her life, falls for him instantly. And though Tony is definitely mysterious—his home life remains unexplained for the entire series—he turns out not to be much of a loner, easily integrating into Betsy's crowd of friends.

And of course there's Joe Willard. Who I find hard not refer to by his full name—a very MLDish quality in itself.

She was struck by the way he walked, with a slight challenging swing. He had very light hair brushed back in a pompadour, blue eyes under thick light brows and healthy red lips with the lower one pushed out as though seeming to dare the world to knock the chip off his shoulder.

If that isn't enough to convince you of his MLD bonafides, consider this. Betsy meets Joe the summer before her freshman year while on an out of town visit. They hit it off right away, and Betsy is a little sad that she'll never see him again. So she is shocked and pleased that Fall to discover he's enrolled in Deep Valley High. But Joe isn't as pleased. Or is he? One minute he's flirty and friendly and the next he's standoffish and skittish. There a few moments where even Mr. Darcy would tell him to loosen up, Brah.

Bonus Factor: The Mrs. Hughes Award for Awesome Housekeepers

Anna, the Rays' hired girl, is a fabulous cook, has flamboyant taste in clothes, and calls her favorite people puny.*** She does tend to see the Rays as slightly inferior to her former employers the McCloskeys, but she loves them as her own flesh and blood. Take her reaction when Betsy's writing is called into question.

"Ja, who is this Shakespeare?" Anna burst through the swinging door. The argument had penetrated into the kitchen only faintly, but Anna knew Betsy was being attacked. "Who is he anyway?" She demanded, squaring her plump shoulders. "Does he ever come here? Well, he better not."

Anti-bonus Factor: The Brass Bowl

I apologize for what is going to be a long diversion in an already long review.

There is a chapter in Heaven to Betsy in which Mrs. Ray decides she wants a large brass bowl for Christmas. Much drama is made of whether she will get it.

In my late teens I was living in a group home for homeless young women. Among the few things I'd saved from my former home were a VHS box set of the original Star Wars trilogy, my mother's wedding dress, and all ten Betsy-Tacy books. One of the weekend staff saw me with them and said she had read them as a girl. She was in her forties, and yes I was totally more comfortable with someone twenty-five years older than me than someone my own age. She wanted to reread them, so I loaned her Heaven to Betsy. When she returned it she mentioned the brass bowl. She thought it was funny how the book treated such a trivial thing as dire. I get her point. She was working with young women: who'd lost parents, were forced out of unstable homes, had mental illness or substance abuse problems, etc.

I was one of those girls. I had to leave home because of abuse and was facing a very uncertain future. I LOVED how small the Ray's troubles were. I didn't want something that reflected my real life. I wanted an escape.

But I also think calling these books pure escapism is a disservice. My life was nothing like Betsy's, but I could easily relate to her. Lovelace did such a good job mixing the specific and the universal.

Casting Call:

Hailee Steinfeld as Betsy

Finding the right Betsy was difficult. She has to be pretty but not stunning or a sexpot. She has to have a youthful naivete, but still come off as intelligent. I think Hailee can handle that.

Deborah Ann Woll as Tacy

She is technically too old, and most famous for playing an often nude vampire. Which doesn't jibe with modest, bashful, Tacy. But look at that face! There is something wonderfully vulnerable about her. And Tacy is supposed to be a Bottacelli esque beauty.

Bradley James as Joe Willard

Choosing a Joe was nearly impossible. There isn't an actual person who matches the image of Joe in my head. Which is a combo of the book illustrations and an angel who breathes starlight and smiles rainbows.**** Googling "attractive blond actor" turns out to be a lot more enjoyable than searching for child actors. But while I'll never pass up the chance to stare at Alexander Skarsgard, Joe Willard is not Eric Northman. My philosophy is when in doubt go with a Brit. So Bradley it is! The more I look at him, the more I like him for the role.

I limited myself to casting three characters per post, so Tib and Tony will have to wait for the next review.

Relationship Status: Aspirational Friend

Book, when we met you were the older kid I looked up to. I thought my high school experience would mirror yours. Full of parties and interested boys and a huge group of awesome friends. And it wasn't, but I don't mind so much. I got to have my teenage years and yours too. And that's pretty great.

*He isn't the reason that the villain in one of my books is named Phil, but he doesn't make me feel bad about it either.

**I highly recommend Mike Carey and Peter Gross's comic series The Unwritten. Particularly for fans of Harry Potter and meta fiction.

***As a kid, I read it as rhyming with bunny.

****What can I say? I was eight.